Sixteen years after nine Charleston, South Carolina, fire fighters died responding to the Charleston Sofa Super Store fire, retired litigation lawyer and author Thomas Woodley has published a book detailing the missteps leading up to the tragedy and lessons learned.
Woodley will lead a workshop on the fire and the book, Last Alarm: The Charleston 9, at the IAFF Redmond Health and Safety Symposium and Barbera EMS Conference Aug. 21-24 in New York City.
“Every line of duty death is heartbreaking, and we must learn from each of those losses to help prevent future tragedies,” said General President Edward Kelly. “Tom put an exhaustive amount of research into this book. With that, he is able to give a lot of insight into the events of that day and some important takeaways for all of us to consider.”
On June 18, 2007, Charleston fire fighters arrived at the Charleston Sofa Super Store to find that the store had no sprinkler system, making it easier for the fire to grow quickly as flames weakened the structure, causing it to collapse and trapping nine fire fighters inside.
Fire fighters on the outside were unable to reach their trapped brothers in time to save them. The fallen include Bradford “Brad” Baity, Mike Benke, Melvin Champaign, James “Earl” Drayton, Michael French, William “Billy” Hutchinson, Mark Kelsey, Louis Mulkey, and Brandon Thompson.
Woodley spent more than four decades representing the interests of fire fighters and emergency medical service personnel before he retired. Many IAFF members will remember that he spent a lot of those years as IAFF General Counsel.
“While countless fire service stories had an impact on me over the years, this one stuck with me,” said Woodley. “I pulled information from many sources, including federal and local investigative reports, courtroom depositions, and interviews with Charleston fire fighters. The book goes into full detail about what led up to the tragedy and how proper staffing, adequate equipment, and even the ability to collectively bargain, are important preventative measures.”
The proceeds from the book will go to the IAFF Foundation and a Charleston-area non-profit that assists South Carolina fire fighters in need of peer counseling for behavioral health concerns.
The book is available for purchase online.